Mentioning books on your personal statement is a good way of showing your interest in – and engagement with – the subject beyond the A-Level curriculum. An Oxbridge Maths interview obviously won’t be an exercise in literary analysis, but it would be beneficial to do some further reading around the subject, as this will help you work out whether you enjoy exploring more advanced mathematical topics.
Here are some of our favourite mathematical texts for Oxbridge applicants:
Simon Singh – Fermat’s Last Theorem
This offers a really interesting insight into one of the biggest questions of mathematical history: Fermat’s Last Theorem. It also provides an interesting exposition of mathematical methods, and how many mathematicians have attempted proofs of this intriguing theory.
Fun fact: if you do study Maths at Oxford, you’ll spend a lot of time in the Andrew Wiles Building, named after Professor Andrew Wiles, who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem in 1993.
Fermat’s Last Theorem is the proposition that if n is greater than 2, then the equation xn+yn=znhas no positive integer solutions. He stated in his papers that he himself had a solution but that it was too big to fit in the margin!
Ian Stewart – Seventeen Equations that Changed the World
A great overview to some of the most crucial equations for the study of maths. This is a particularly useful book when you’re writing your personal statement, because it provides a good starting point for discovering and researching new concepts that interest you. For example, you could write something like:
When reading Stewart’s Seventeen Equations that Changed the World, I found the section on the Black-Scholes Model extremely interesting. I therefore did more research into how bankers use this model to predict the behaviour of markets, and went to a lecture on the mathematics behind investment banking in London. I also did work experience with a bank, where I had the opportunity to ask more questions about market prediction, allowing me to understand it better.
Simon Singh – The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets
This is a funny, entertaining read, showing some interesting mathematical secrets lying behind everyone’s favourite cartoon. As well as being amusing and engaging, Singh provides some really interesting mathematical theories in a digestible form.
This is one of my favourite mathematical books, and it will make your further reading all the more enjoyable!
Allenby – Numbers and Proofs
This is a really good introduction to the notion of proof, which is crucial to the study of maths at university. If you’re unsure as to whether it’s for you, this is a good way to acclimatise to the concepts, and see if you think you’d enjoy the style. Numbers and Proofs is a great bridging book between school and university. It also has lots of really useful examples, and explanations of proof types, so is a useful foundation for your study at university.
Marcus Du Satoy – The Music of the Primes
An interesting exposition of prime numbers, the atoms of mathematical theory. A constant issue in maths is whether there could be a formula that generates prime numbers, and this book looks into the attempts, and explores if we could ever find such a formula. If prime numbers interest you, then this is a great, focused study.
Gould & Hurst – Bridging the Gap to University Mathematics
This texbook goes through different core topics of the type of maths crucial to university study. Each chapter has worked examples and exercises that get harder and more university-esque as they progress. I would recommend working through some of these exercises and chapters in the summer before you start your degree. Earlier into the application process, have a look through the book to see if the subjects and questions appeal to you.
Each of these books serves a different purpose, so work out what you want to focus on in your wider reading; you definitely don’t need to read all six, but having a few under your belt would really boost your application. Besides, if you’re applying for maths at Oxbridge, you should find them fairly interesting!